Beaten Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2, and at a loss as to where your next bout of moral muddling might be emanating from? Look no further. A spy has emerged from the shadows and he's in possession of some vital intel for RPG fans... meet agent Michael Thorton, and enter the murky world of Alpha Protocol.
Best described as an action-RPG, Alpha Protocol is a quiet revelation - delivering dynamic shooting, insane levels of customisation and a thumping near-future dose of espionage and sinister conspiracy - where the bad guys are occasionally good, the good guys invariably bad and everyone else is hovering somewhere in between.
As far as the talky stuff goes, instead of traditionally responding via various dialogue options, Thorton is instead able to mould conversations via aggressive, professional, suave or cocky replies. It's a decent enough system, but a bit vague and Mike sometimes comes across as borderline schizophrenic.
Granted, Obsidian may not be the best when it comes to graphic engines, but when it comes to dialogue this team pulls out all the stops. There's no black and white here - just so many shades of grey, which means learning to trust your gut becomes vital. Then, when the often dramatic consequences unfold, you genuinely feel it was your actions that shaped them. Cause and effect, baby.
Despite Thorton's rather weedy, campy player model (more Maxwell Smart than Jason Bourne) you will feel like a super spy at times - especially when 'using the shower' in your dilapidated Taipei safehouse operates a lift that transports you down into what can only be described as Thorton's Batcave - complete with high-powered motorbike tunnel exit! Here you'll indulge in intelligence gathering, liaising with your handlers, experimenting with facial hair and even some email flirting.
THAT'S JUST UNREAL
The shooting's nowhere near as slick as that other Unreal Engine-powered RPG fave, Mass Effect 2, but it's more gratifying and multifaceted. As Thorton levels ups and develops his weapons specialities/perks the initially frustrating: 'I'm shooting this goon repeatedly in the face, but he's not actually taking any damage' routine fades to black and combat becomes very exciting indeed.
There are more than a handful of exceptionally fun shootouts - and most levels are labyrinthine, offering plenty of opportunity to flank (and be flanked!), loads of goodies to pick up and bonus objectives to achieve.
Alpha Protocol's a technical turkey but it's also a gripping, innovative and deserving of both success and a sequel. It might look like a dog, but dig deep and you're in for an undercover treat - it's a stonking feeling when a game we were expecting to stink turns out to be a revelation. If you've any interest in RPGs that also deliver explosive action, don't let this double agent slip through the net.
This article was originally published in GamesMaster issue 227. Why not subscribe and get it posted to your door here.
An ugly duckling that soon becomes a swan. The only spying game you need to play...
- Feeling like a badass spy
- Flirting with the hot ladies
- Neat minigames
- UE3 visuals look plain hideous in places
- Riddled with slowdown
- At times the globe-spanning narrative